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Alderman insinuates that I’m a criminal

At the meeting of the Court of Common Council in July, Alderman Ian Luder put a “question” to the Chair of the Standards Committee that attempted to cast a slur on my character by insinuating that I was engaging in some kind of criminal activity.

His “question” was as follows:

“Could the Chairman of the Standards Committee confirm the rumours that a Member has made a claim for rights of light arising from the construction of COLPAI. If so, has the claim been settled, and would the Chairman agree that this indicates a disclosable pecuniary interest is engaged?”

The answer should have been that a member’s “pecuniary interest” is only relevant if it is “engaged” when a member participates in a discussion or vote in a Court or committee meeting about that matter. It is not relevant to a member claiming or receiving compensation from the Corporation in a private capacity.

The Standards Chair, however, gave an opaque answer, having first provided sufficient detail to the Court for me to be readily identified as the member who was the subject of Alderman Luder’s “question”.

The rules governing meetings of the Court did not allow me to make a statement in response to his “question”, but did permit me to ask a supplementary question, which was as follows:

“I’m the unnamed member to whom the question refers.

I would like to thank those members who warned me about this question by our most senior alderman, who did not check the facts with me before speaking. 

My interest in my flat in Golden Lane Estate was duly registered upon my being elected.

I have not yet received any compensation for the loss of light to my flat resulting from the Corporation’s COLPAI development. I was advised by letter from the Corporation that I may be able to claim compensation, and am seeking to do so.

Any compensation that I may receive will be due to me in my private capacity, and unconnected with my public office. 

COLPAI rights of light has only been raised in one committee meeting I have attended.  It arose as a procurement issue in the meeting of the Community and Children’s Service Committee on 8 February this year. As the minutes of that meeting show, I made a declaration, and did not speak or vote, this being a rare matter in which I had an actual - rather than imaginary - pecuniary interest.

I believe in democratic representation and transparency. My question to the Chair is whether she will make these the guiding principles of the reform of our standards regime?"

The Standards Chair, in response to my supplementary question, did not confirm that she would make democratic representation and transparency the guiding principles of standards reform.

Following the meeting, I wrote to Alderman Luder asking him to explain why he had asked the “question”. Why, in particular, did he insinuate - in the most public forum possible - that an identifiable fellow councillor might have engaged in criminal activity when he had no ground for believing this? 

He has not replied.

I have since made a complaint about Alderman Luder’s conduct to Alderman David Wootton, Chair of the General Purposes Committee of Aldermen, and asked him: 

- to identify any other member who has made such a remark, and extend the complaint to anyone identified;

- why no Alderman present at the Court meeting had spoken out to dissociate the Court of Aldermen from their colleague’s behaviour

- whether, at the Aldermen’s private meeting before the Court, any Alderman tried to dissuade Alderman Luder from putting his “question”.

I have also written to the Standards Chair, Councillor Ann Holmes, saying that I think her opaque answer gave the impression that there was substance to the implication of Alderman Luder’s “question”, and that this cast a slur on my character as well as his “question”.

I have asked her to make a statement at the next Court meeting on 12 September to set the record straight.

 

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Comment by Sue Pearson on November 25, 2019 at 21:21

Unfortunately I did not receive a substantive response from Alderman Wootton, Chair of the General Purposes Committee of Alderman with regard to my complain about Alderman Luder. Consequently I had to make a complaint to the Standards Committee. You can read my email correspondence which led to the decision, and below a transcript of the resulting two complaints, one against Alderman Luder, the other against Alderman Wootton.

 

TRANSCRIPT OF COMPLAINT AGAINST ALDERMAN LUDER

18 October 2019

 

I consider that Alderman Luder acted in breach of paragraphs 2(k), 2(l) and 2(m) of the Code of Conduct by putting a “question” in the public session of the meeting of the Court of Common Council on 18 July 2019 which implied, without foundation, that I had acted improperly, even criminally.

The facts relating to this matter, including the wording of the “question”, are set out in the email correspondence that I am forwarding to you separately and that should be treated as forming part of this complaint.

That correspondence comprises:

- an email I sent to Alderman Luder on 22 July 2019, asking for an explanation of his conduct, to which he has not replied;

- an email I sent to Alderman Wootton on 29 July 2019, making a complaint to him in his capacity as Chair of the General Purposes Committee of Aldermen about Alderman Luder’s conduct, in accordance with paragraph 15

of the Complaints Procedure; and

- subsequent emails to, and one from, Alderman Wootton concerning the progress of the complaint.

 

At the time of writing, Alderman Wootton has not replied. Today is three months after Alderman Luder put his “question”. If I were to make a complaint under the Code of Conduct after today, it might be rejected, as paragraph 36(iv) of the Complaints Procedure requires that a complaint is normally made within three months after the matter complained about takes place. Since it is unclear when and how Alderman Wootton will respond to the complaint made to him I am now making this complaint under the Code of Conduct.

 

 

TRANSCRIPT OF COMPLAINT AGAINST ALDERMAN WOOTTON

28 October 2019

I consider that Alderman Wootton has acted in breach of paragraphs 1(g) and 2(m) of the Code of Conduct by failing to:

(1) deal properly with a complaint that I made to him in his capacity as the Chair of the General Purposes Committee of Aldermen; and

(2) recuse himself from undertaking to deal with that complaint, for three reasons.

I attach all the relevant correspondence.

 

(1) Failure to deal properly with a complaint

As background, Alderman Ian Luder put a “question” in the public session of the meeting of the Court of Common Council on 18 July 2019 in which he implied, without foundation, that I had acted improperly, even criminally. I sent him an email on 22 July, asking for an explanation of his conduct. He did not reply. 

On 29 July, I sent Alderman Wootton an email in his capacity as the Chair of the General Purposes Committee of Aldermen making a complaint about Alderman Luder’s conduct.

Not having received a reply, or even an acknowledgement of receipt, I sent another email to Alderman Wootton on 5 August asking for an acknowledgement and an indication of when, after the summer recess, he expected to make a substantive response. He replied that day acknowledging receipt and indicating that he expected to write further in early or mid-September.

Having heard nothing by 24 September, I sent him an email asking what progress he had made in investigating my complaint and when I could expect to receive a response.

 

Having heard nothing by 1 October, I approached him at a meeting of the Planning Committee, on which we both sit, and asked the same question. He replied that I would receive a response "next week” (i.e. the week from 7 to 11 October).

Having heard nothing by 15 October, I sent him an email expressing concern that he had still not replied to my complaint, and asking him to let me know within the next couple of days what was causing the delay and when I could expect to receive a response.

Having heard nothing by 17 October, I emailed him that I realised that the following day (18 October) was the last day I could make a complaint about the same matter to the Standards Committee, which has to be made within three months of what happened (Alderman Luder putting his “question” at the Court meeting on 18 July). I explained that when I had made the complaint to Alderman Wootton I had not intended to make a standards complaint, as I had expected that he would have dealt with my complaint to him by the end of September. That had not happened, and it was still unclear when and how he would deal with the complaint.

I asked him to send me a substantive response, if possible, by noon the following day. I indicated that if I had not received it by then, I would have to make a standards complaint to the Monitoring Officer that afternoon. Having heard nothing from Alderman Wootton by 5.27pm on the following day, three minutes before the deadline for making a standards complaint, I submitted the standards complaint form, copying him. I explained in the form that I was submitting it because it was still unclear when and how he would respond to my complaint about Alderman Luder, although he had time to look into the matter.

I have heard nothing from Alderman Wootton during the ten days that have followed my making the standards complaint.

Against the background of these facts, I consider that Alderman Wootton has not dealt properly with the complaint that I made to him on 29 July, for the following reasons:

(a) The City Corporation’s complaints procedure refers, in paragraph 15, to the Chair of the General Purposes Committee of Aldermen having the role of dealing with complaints made about the conduct of an alderman.

(b) Alderman Wootton, in that capacity, apparently did nothing about my complaint during the three months after my making it. That does, itself, indicate that he failed to deal with it properly.

(c) My complaint should not have taken long to investigate. He was present when Alderman Luder put his “question”, and the wording of the question appears in the minutes of the meeting. He need only have interviewed Alderman Luder, and perhaps any people from whom Alderman Luder had heard the “rumours” mentioned in his question. He should have been able to do this by the end of September.

(d) He should in any event have acknowledged receipt of my emails and kept me informed of the progress of the investigation. He replied to only one of the five emails that I sent him during the three month period. The email to which he did reply was the one I sent on 5 August, in which I pointed out I had not received an acknowledgement of my previous email. He twice gave me indications of when I could receive a substantive response, but did not respond within those timescales, or contact me to explain why.

 

(2) Failure to recuse himself from undertaking to deal with my complaint

There are three separate reasons why Alderman Wootton should have recused himself from undertaking to deal with my complaint:

(a) Not intervening in the matter complained of Alderman Wootton is one of the most senior members of the Court of Aldermen and the wider Court of Common Council. In view of that, and having had a career as a lawyer, he should have known that Alderman Luder’s “question” casting a slur on my character had no foundation. Even members of the Court who have no legal background, but who are familiar with the Code of Conduct, have contacted me to say they could not understand why Alderman Luder did this. Paragraph 1(g) of the Code of Conduct (“Leadership”) requires that "Holders of public office should exhibit these principles [of public life] in their own behaviour.

They should actively and robustly support the principles and be willing to challenge poor behaviour wherever it occurs.” Alderman Wootton said nothing at the Court meeting on 18 July, as he could have done, to challenge Alderman Luder’s “question".

For this reason, Alderman Wootton should have recused himself from undertaking to deal with my complaint, unless - belatedly - he acted effectively to deal with Alderman Luder's behaviour after I made my complaint. He did not.

(b) Facilitating the matter complained of

Since I made my complaint to Alderman Wootton on 29 July, I have heard from two members who were present at the Court meeting on 18 July that they saw him place the standing microphone directly in front of Alderman Luder before the question was put. Alderman Wootton must have known the question that Alderman Luder was going to put, because all members receive notice of questions as they arrive for Court meetings. I understand that the aldermen also have a private meeting before each Court meeting, at which the business of the imminent Court meeting is presumably discussed. Aldermen Wootton therefore physically facilitated the putting of Alderman Luder’s “question”, knowing what it would be.

This went beyond not intervening in the matter complained of to facilitating it. For this reason, Alderman Wootton should have recused himself from undertaking to deal with my complaint when I made it on 29 July. He could have referred my complaint to another alderman to deal with. He did not.

(c) Masonic connection

I understand that both Alderman Wootton and Alderman Luder are freemasons. Although freemasonry is shrouded in secrecy, it is widely known that freemasons have a fraternal bond, which would be meaningless if they did not treat a brother mason’s conduct in the best possible light when it is called into question. Even if it were suggested that one mason would not treat a brother mason differently from anyone else in this situation, and even if that were true (although it could not be verified because of the secrecy), the fact that masons have a fraternal bond is sufficient to create at least the appearance of bias.

For that reason alone, Alderman Wootton should have recused himself from undertaking to deal with my complaint. He could have referred it to another alderman who was not mason to deal with, but he did not.

 

Conclusion

Alderman Wootton acted in breach of paragraph 1(g) of the Code of Conduct by not “….being willing to challenge poor behaviour wherever it occurs", as described in (2)(a) above, and by generally failing to "actively and robustly support the principles” of public life by all the rest of his conduct.

He also acted in breach of 2(m) of the Code of Conduct - “not doing anything which could reasonably be regarded as bringing your office or authority into disrepute” - by failing to:

- perform a role of his office of Chair of the General Purposes Committee of Aldermen in relation to a serious matter, i.e. an alderman casting a slur on the character of another member of the Court in a public session of the Court;

- show elementary courtesy to that member by replying to my enquiries; and

- for three reasons recuse himself from dealing with the complaint.

 

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